By Pippa Brown: Pacific Media Centre
Health messages are in for next year’s Polyfest after more than 90,000 people enjoyed the latest event here over the weekend at the Manukau Sportsbowl. School teams from more than 15 Asia-Pacific cultures contested the annual event - the world's largest Maori and Pasifika cultural event.
Event manager Tania Karauria says subtle changes are made to the successful formula each year – “another reason for the calm mood”.
The festival, now far too big for the host schools to handle as a venue, is a smoke free event - and a real effort is put into stamping out smoking.
This year free water was on offer with no fizzy drinks.
The aim for 2010 is to further encourage a healthy eating message around festival type foods and the different cultural stages, says Karauria.
The festival evolved from humble beginnings in 1976 when it was first hosted by Otara’s Hillary College.
Dean Wilson, media manager, has been with the Polyfest for three years. He describes this year as “brilliant”.
“It’s a bit of a slice of the islands – every stage has a bit of a presence.”
Wesley College hosted this year’s four-day event. More than 9000 students from 60 schools performed under the slogan of “Many cultures, one world”
Five stages included Maori, Cook Island, Niue, Samoan, Tongan performers along with a diversity stage.
“The presentation of the festival has got better. Using professionals makes it more relaxed and the quality of the performance is bigger. The students go out and work really hard to be competitive,” says Wilson.
Manukau City had assisted the 34-year-old festival with the infrastructure at the Sports Bowl.
“Sponsorship is a big part of the support. The downturn has brought a tougher sponsorship market but many of our sponsors have signed up for three years so will come back,” says Wilson.
“ASB has been a loyal supporter for 24 years and every year continues to add to the event. It’s a good positive youth celebration and a good synergy to be involved with,” he says.
Wilson has not seen violence at the event for some time. Counties Manukau police have a strong presence and there is security on site.
Tania Karauria, ASB Polyfest event manager, says organisers want to see it stay safe and exciting.
“There is a total concerted effort to make the festival what it is today,” she says.
Karauria says there is an increase in the number of large groups from schools attending.
On Friday, Te Atatu Intermediate bused in the whole school of 270 pupils and 30 staff to the event.
Inspector Dave Simpson, in charge of operations, says: “The festival started out as a really good intention for a multicultural secondary school extravaganza. Unfortunately, it also provided the opportunity for young people to act inappropriately.
“Going back about six or seven years there were some brawls, ethnic pressure and tension between schools,” he says.
John Sione, a visitor from New Lynn, is concerned about talk that the future of the festival could be at risk.
“It’s stupid. This is what our parents from the islands did,” he says.
“For some of us, learning this is our only escape from gangs. The practice in the weekends and after school keeps us occupied. It’s good the way it is.”
Inspector Simpson believes the event is good for young people committed to training and competing for a trophy with strong parent support.
He took over the policing of the event in 2003 and quickly recognised there were problems and safety issues.
“We started putting a lot more police staff into it, working with the organisers and a security firm and producing a more integrated response to safety issues. More effort is put into this event than other events like an international sports fixture or rock concert,” he says.
“We have a disproportionate number of lower decile schools in our district and an incredible ethnic diversity. This event celebrates that diversity.
“An organisation like ours should be very much involved rather than sitting on the periphery and doing its normal job,” says Inspector Simpson.
“The fact that this event is all about connecting with culture is not really the issue. It’s about providing the opportunity for young people to get together, to commit and train for something, to gain a sense of achievement whether they win or lose.”
“I just think that events like this do so much for our young people. We are really pleased to see the improvements that have occurred and I must stress that this is not just about the police or down to the police. By working closely with the organisers and security we have come up with a type of solution,” says Inspector Simpson.
Top: Cook Islands dancers at the Polyfest; Above: Police keep an eye out for problems. Photos: Pippa Brown.
Pippa Brown is a student journalist on the Asia-Pacific Journalism course, AUT University.